01/11/14 5:25pm
01/11/2014 5:25 PM

COURTESY PHOTO |  Sue Condreras with her German shepherd Jesse, an experienced rescue dog that died Christmas night, just 11 days after receiving the Award for Canine Excellence as a Search and Rescue Dog.

A beloved German shepherd honored last month as a top search and rescue dog by the American Kenel Club died unexpectedly Christmas night, its trainer told the Riverhead News-Review.

Jesse, who spent her life locating missing people and visiting hospitals and nursing homes as a therapy dog, was 6.

Sue Condreras of Northville, who first met Jesse as a 4-month-old pup and who started training her at 1, said Jesse began vomiting and became very restless on Christmas Day. She rushed Jesse to East End Veterinary Emergency & Speciality Center in Riverhead. The vets discovered Jesse had Mesenteric torsion, a twisting of the intestines that is most commonly seen in German shepherds, according to web-dvm.net. It’s a fatal condition.

COURTESY PHOTO | Jesse with Ms. Condreras on a helicopter ready for a mission.

Ms. Condreras made the difficult decision to have Jesse euthanized.

In Jesse’s memory, a memorial fund has been started to raise $10,000 that will go toward the training of another dog to follow Jesse’s footsteps. Nearly $2,000 has been raised so far for the Long Island K9 Search and Rescue, Inc. Pat Sondgeroth of Riverhead, one of Jesse’s owners, said Jesse’s memory will live on through the memorial.

“We miss her terribly,” Ms. Sondgeroth said. “But there’s a lot going on to remember her.”

Eleven days before Jesse died, she received the 2013 Award for Canine Excellence from the American Kenel Club in Orlando, Fla. at the Eukanuba National Dog Show.

Jesse had endured plenty in the rigorous work of a search and rescue dog. She suffered two herniated discs in her spine during a training session that led to a six-month rehabilitation process. Her first rescue mission back from the injury took her to New Jersey, where she located a missing hunter.

Lisa Peterson, an American Kennel Club spokesperson, told the News-Review in August that Jesse typifies the tenacity of her breed.

“It’s really quite something,” Ms. Peterson said. “Jesse is multi-talented.”

joew@timesreview.com

08/23/13 5:00pm
08/23/2013 5:00 PM

COURTESY PHOTO |  Sue Condreras with her German shepherd Jesse, an experienced rescue dog that was honored with the Award for Canine Excellence as a Search and Rescue Dog.

Sue Condreras of Northville knew something was wrong the moment her German shepherd came out of the brush.

Jesse, who was wearing a vest that marked her as a trained search and rescue dog, was limping and yelping in pain.

The experienced rescue dog had suffered two herniated discs in her spine. But even a six-month rehabilitation process, which involved acupuncture and physical therapy, couldn’t keep Jesse down.

And Ms. Condreras could tell her partner wanted to get back out in the field.

“You can sit in my yard and throw the ball 10,000 times and she’ll bring the ball back 10,000,” Ms. Condreras said, explaining how she knew Jesse was eager to work again.

So Jesse was put back in action and, on her first rescue mission in the swamps of New Jersey, she located a missing hunter.

Jesse and Ms. Condreras’ dedication is now being honored by the American Kennel Club, which has announced Jesse as the winner of this year’s Award for Canine Excellence as a Search and Rescue Dog.

“It’s an honor for us to go out there and receive this award on behalf of all the other search dogs and canine teams that go out there and work,” Ms. Condreras said.

Ms. Condreras has owned German shepherds for years and has practiced obedience training with them, but decided about six years ago that she wanted to train a dog specifically for search and rescue.

She went to a reputable breeder in New Jersey, who showed her Jesse, then a 4-month-old pup.

“It was a match made in heaven,” Ms. Condreras recalled. “She came up to me and wrapped her paws around me.”

When Jesse turned a year old, their training began and the dog eventually became certified as a volunteer live search and human remains detection dog. The two operate through a Long Island volunteer group, going wherever emergency officials need them.

Jesse doesn’t just search for lost people. She also serves as a therapy dog, and has visited hospitals and nursing homes more than 250 times.

“The most rewarding thing is we’re able to do this as a team,” Ms. Condreras said. “There’s a bond that’s gotten that much stronger. Sometimes you look in her eyes and you know what’s going on … There’s a bond I can’t explain.”

Lisa Peterson, an American Kennel Club spokesperson, said Jesse typifies the tenacity of her breed.

“It’s really quite something,” Ms. Peterson said. “Jesse is multi-talented.”

Jesse and Ms. Condreras will accept the award at this year’s annual National Championship dog show in Orlando, Fla. Until then, the two partners are taking a little time to celebrate.

This week, as Ms. Condreras relaxed as part of a short stay-at-home vacation. Jesse couldn’t rest; she was swimming in the pool.

psquire@timesreview.com